The acclaimed pianist James Rhodes, who was repeatedly raped as a child, has spoken of the “toxic form of manipulation” used by paedophiles to stop their victims speaking out.
In the preface to a report based on interviews with victims, Rhodes, who was raped over a five-year period by a gym teacher, wrote that it took him 25 years to speak out about his ordeal. He said that abusers manipulate their victims into remaining silent.
“When paedophiles say to their victims, as they all do in one form or another, ‘If you ever speak about this, unimaginably bad things will happen to you,’ what they are doing is perhaps on one level even worse than the physical act of abuse itself. They are manipulating their victims into being complicit in the abuse.”
His comments introduce Survivors’ Voices: Breaking the silence on living with the impact of child sexual abuse in the family environment, a report by the charity One in Four which reveals the devastating effect of abuse on survivors and spells out the burden it places on wider society.
The charity said sexual abuse in childhood was often the underlying factor in a range of health conditions, such as eating disorders, self-harm and addiction. Ministry of Justice research shows that more than a quarter of women and men who go to prison were abused as children. However, child abuse is often missed by health professionals treating mental and physical disorders in their patients. As a result the trauma they have suffered remains unaddressed.
“You get them presenting with problems like drugs, alcohol or mental illness, but nobody has ever asked them about their previous experiences,” said Linda Dominguez, director of One in Four.
The charity is urging professionals working in areas such as drug and alcohol dependency, mental health and eating disorders to ask their clients whether they have been abused.
“The trauma resulting from childhood sexual abuse is often not recognised or addressed,” a spokeswoman said. “This means that survivors can waste years before finding effective support to help them recover from the sexual abuse they experienced in childhood. Without appropriate care and support, survivors’ coping strategies can be negative and destructive to the wellbeing of themselves and of society in general.”
Amy, an abuse victim who contributed to the report, said she started using drugs because they were the only thing that helped her to feel good about herself, at least temporarily. “I started smoking and drinking at 13 and continued to smoke cannabis daily from the age of 14. By the time I was 15 I was taking amphetamines, ecstasy, LSD – and then moved on to ketamine and cocaine as well, until I finally stopped at age 21.
“I saw many of my friends have psychotic episodes and some of them being hospitalised.”
Amy’s breakthrough came when she started receiving counselling that helped her to address the underlying triggers for her drug-taking – which lay in the trauma she had endured as a child.
“I started training to be a counsellor at age 19 and, through going for weekly counselling and writing personal development journals for my course, I was able to understand myself and find the inner resources to stop taking drugs,” Amy said.
The issue of sexual abuse in childhood has been thrust into the spotlight following a series of high-profile court cases involving celebrities and criminal gangs, but evidence suggests that around 70% of child sexual abuse takes place within the family.
Last month the Children’s Commissioner said that as much as 85% of child abuse goes unreported. Around 50,000 cases were recorded from April 2012 to March 2014, but the commissioner suggested that the actual number could be as high as 450,000. Of the abuse victims interviewed for One in Four’s report, nearly 90% had never informed the police.
Rhodes said that victims would come forward only when they felt confident that their voices would be heard by people who could truly understand what they had been through.
“Being heard, being met with belief, understanding and compassion, feeling safe from judgment, criticism and blame – these things are the keys to rebuilding trust and starting the healing process,” he writes.
“Feeling able to come forward and speak out safely has never been more vital for those who, like me, have had the trauma of child rape thrown on to them and, by proxy, those who love them.”